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Sharing Hard Drives

Using the AirPort Extreme base station as a file server provides a great solution for families as well as small office users. It can provide a space for shared files as well as a space for backups. Using a USB hub, you can attach multiple hard drives, enabling you to easily expand your storage needs.

Although the base station can act as a file server for attached hard drive, you will need to first format the drive using a computer. The base station can access drives formatted by either a Mac or Windows, but they must be formatted as Mac OS X Extended or FAT 32, respectively. Once a drive is formatted, simply attach it to the base station’s USB port (or an attached USB hub).

Attached drives are automatically detected and shared. By default, hard drives are shared with the same password used to configure the base station. You can, however, choose to use a separate password to allow access to the shared drive(s). (This is a good idea if you don’t want your kids or employees to be able to change the base station’s configuration.) Or you can set up individual user accounts. You can also choose to allow guest access so that anyone on your network has access to the disk (and you can specify whether guests have read and write or read-only access).

When using user accounts, you also can specify whether users have no access, read-only access, or full read and write access to shared drives. If you use user accounts, a Users folder is created at the root level of the shared drive. Each user account that you create is assigned a user folder that only that user can access. This procedure provides an easy solution to giving users private storage space and preventing one user from deleting another user’s files.

In addition to sharing files on the network (wired and wireless) that is created by the base station, there is the option of sharing files over the base station’s WAN port (the one that connects to your Internet connection). If your base station is part of a larger network (such as in a school or business environment), this is a great feature because it allows you to enable access to other people connected to that larger network. It can also be used if you are not part of a larger network and want to access your shared hard drive from another location via the Internet (you simply need the IP address that the base station receives from your Internet provider, which can be found on then Internet tab of its configuration dialog box).

Choosing to make your shared hard drive available over the Internet poses security risks, however. Depending on your Internet connection, simply turning this option on can make your shared drive visible to a large number of people using the same provider. This is why you should never enable the Advertise Disks Globally option using Bonjour (Apple’s zero-configuration network technology) if you choose to share your hard drive in this manner. Ensure that guest access is turned off; you should use either a separate disk password or user accounts to secure hard drives, which can offer some security for your base station’s configuration password if someone uses a password-cracking tool to access your shared hard drive. If you do use this option, you should also use it sparingly and disable it whenever you don’t need to provide remote access.

Being a cross-platform device, the base station can share disks with both Macs and Window PCs (regardless of the format of the drive). This is a great touch because many homes and offices have both Macs and PCs. It truly makes the base station a one-stop solution, even if you have a single Mac and multiple PCs or—even no Mac at all.

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